California Community Colleges filed a federal lawsuit yesterday against Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for making undocumented students ineligible for federally funded coronavirus relief.
In the suit, California Community Colleges argues that the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) restrictions place an arbitrary burden on schools to find assistance for students who are ineligible for federal funds.
In March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The bill directed DeVos to allocate approximately $12.6 billion to colleges and universities; each institution is required to distribute half of its funds directly to students with financial need. Congress only placed restrictions based on a student’s enrollment status.
On April 21, the ED issued a guidance to institutions prohibiting schools from giving federal aid money to undocumented students, including those protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act. The ED argues that the CARES Act directs relief to U.S. citizens but Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education, disagrees.
“Congress had nothing to do with it,” Hartle said. “The department has to own it.”
The ED decision is the newest incident of the current administration’s exclusion of undocumented immigrants to federal benefits, despite the billions of dollars they pay in taxes. DACA recipients alone pay nearly $10 billion federal, state, and local taxes each year, according to a study conducted by the think tank Center for American Progress.
In response to the ED restrictions, some universities are using other funds to provide aid for undocumented students with financial need. The University of Washington and Georgetown University, among others, are distributing the same grant amounts to all students based on financial need. Grants for undocumented students will come from non-federal funds.
The new restrictions may also complicate and delay the aid distribution process, Hartle said.
“We fear that campuses will be in the position to only give money to people already getting financial aid, using a complicated, time-consuming process that is completely inconsistent with emergency grants,” he said.
Given the nature of lawsuits, the California case may not be adjudicated for a long time. Meanwhile, undocumented students across the U.S. will have to rely on their institutions for any meaningful coronavirus relief.
Sources: Forbes 05/12/2020; Forbes 04/21/2020; The New York Times 04/22/2020